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The Abyss-Close Encounters of the Deep Kind

December 17, 2009

The Abyss

This review was earlier published at PassionforCinema.

E.T. meets Close Encounters Of the 3rd Kind, only difference is instead of a secret location, this time it is deep under the water, or more specifically in The Abyss, James Cameron’s 1990underwater sci fi adventure. After humanoids(Terminator) and nasty aliens( Aliens). James Cameron this time goes into the deep ocean.

The movie starts off with an American submarine USS Nebraska, sinking in the Cayman trough, after it has an encounter with a mysterious moving object. In order to counter the Soviets, who are approaching there, the US Govt, arranges a SEAL team, which would use an experimental, underwater oil rig as a base for their operations. One of the team members is Dr.Lindsey Brigman( Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio), who designed that underwater rig. And because this is Hollywood, her ex husband Virgil Brigman aka Bud( Ed Harris), is now a blue collar oil rig worker on the same platform. The leader of the team Lt.Coffey( Michael Biehn), is a totally paranoid individual, guess must have read a lot of Andy Glover.

Bud’s blue collar work force on the underwater oil rig, include Catfish De Vries(Leo Burmester), Alan Hippy( Todd Graff), Lisa “One Night” Standing(Kimberley Scott). As the Seal Team makes it’s search for the sub with the oil rig team, we also have this tu tu main main, going on betwen Mr and Ms. Brigman. After a storm, that nearly wrecks the underwater rig, the crew and the SEAL team experience a strange encounter with an alien. In a brilliantly shot scene, we have an alien slowly entering into the rig, and changing shape. This was the first time i had seen morphing on screen.

However Lt.Coffey is increasingly more paranoid about the aliens, and decides that the only way out now is to nuke them. He attaches a nuke to a ROV( Remote Operated Vehicle) and sends it into the trench, where he believes the aliens are comming from. Lindsey and Bud, attack him and try foiling his plans. In the ensuing scuffle and chase, Coffey is killed, but the ROV containing the nuke, goes down into the trench. Trapped in the submersible, Lindsey nearly dies of drowning, before Bud and crew manage to get her back to life, in a pretty much Bollywoodish scene.

The rest of the movie is about Bud’s trip into the Abyss, and his encounters with aliens there.

The Abyss, is not as good as James Cameron’s other sci fi flicks Aliens and Terminator series, but still is pretty much an interesting and engaging movie for the most part of it. If you are a special effects fan, like me, you will love the effects in this for sure. Especially the scene, where the alien enters the rig, and the morphing techniques adopted here, to show the alien changing faces is just brilliant.

Alien Encounters The Crew

Other great special effects scenes, include Lindsey’s first contact with an alien nearing the submarine, the scene where Bud encounters the alien species in the Abyss.

And yes the climax, where an entire city rises from the underwater is nothing short of mind blowing. I saw it for the first time on a big screen, and i was just totally blown away by it.

The Abyss like most other Cameron movies also has some first rate action sequences, the most notable being a scene, where a storm topples the crane that is attached to the rig, and water enters it.

The scene where Bud takes a descent into the dark, recesses of The Abyss is pretty much spine chilling.

However it is not just the special effects and action scenes, but also the human relationships and characterization, that prevent The Abyss from turning out to be just another mindless summer blockbuster.

The estranged relation between Bud and Lindsey, the tension betwen them, their ego clashes, and their reunion is depicted well without going too overboard. It also helps that both Ed Harris and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio being really good actors, they bring a measure of credibility to their parts. I would not rate this as one of Ed Harris best performances though, he has given much better ones earlier, but still he lends that dignity and credibility to his role. As the feisty, independent, yet vulnerable Lindsey, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, is equally effective, though she does go melodramatic at times.

The Abyss also works with having a strong antagonist in Lt.Coffey, played by Michael Biehn, who had earlier appeared in Aliens and The Terminator. He is paranoid, and has a High Pressure Nervous Syndrome. As Lindsey says

We all see what we want to see. Coffey looks and he sees Russians. He sees hate and fear. You have to look with better eyes than that.

Coffey is the more hot headed counterpoint to Lindsey’s cool headed character. He is ready to nuke the trench, in order to protect the world from alien, never mind if that would cause destruction. Michael Biehn, is first rate in that role, conveying the paranoia. In fact one of strong points of The Abyss are the performances from its 3 lead players Harris, Mastrantonio and Biehn.

If Cameron, depicted the aliens as nasty critters, in Aliens, here he shows them as friendly creatures, who want to reach out to humankind. In fact mankind has more to fear from people like Coffey, than the aliens. In the director’s cut version, not shown on the screen, we have the Alien showing Bud footage of how mankind, is going into a self destructive mood, and then they create a mega tsunami, that almost wipes out entire coastal cities, before relenting. And this is what i thought i was the movies weakest part.

The last 15-20 minutes is where Cameron falters badly. Its as if he were saying “Ok, i have made a great sci fi actioner, with some special effects, now let me be intellectual”. Well Cameron does send an effective message, and the effects are fabulous. The big problem is Cameron forgets there is something called editing. It just goes on and on, until you are forced to shout “STOP, Please”, . Cameron tries to pack in everything from nuke disarmament to global warming to arms race, so much as if he is trying to say “See, see what a great message i am giving to you”. But i guess generally this was a problem with most of Cameron’s later movies. Much as i liked Terminator 2, the climax just seemed to go on and on. Same thing with True Lies, which was great for 3/4ths and the last 1/4th was just plain ridiculous. As for Titanic, i was half expecting Jack and Rose to sing a song in the climax.

Though not as great as Aliens or the Terminator series, The Abyss is neverthless still worth a watch. Though its never ending climax is a downer, it more than makes it up with some spectacular underwater photography. The movie was shot in a huge water tank, in an unused nuclear plant, and the camera work is just top notch. As also the scene where Bud takes the descent into the Abyss, the eerie, dark atmosphere is beautifully captured. As also a great musical score by Alan Silvestri. If you are a sci fi fan, do watch this, but try getting the director’s cut version.

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